This week in Summer Reading

Book cover for The Ornament of the World

The Ornament of the World
María Rosa Menocal

In her history of the vibrant Islamic state that governed Spain during the Dark Ages and its far-reaching cultural influence, Menocal shows us a very different set of rules for worship, war, and art than we typically associate with medieval Europe. The emergence of a society so steeped in learning and religious and linguistic diversity, and the mutual rewriting of rules brought about as it rubbed shoulders with its neighbors, make an eye-opening story.

Assistant Professor
Department of Statistics


Book cover for Caste

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson, really opened a new perspective into how I view race, particularly in the United States. It goes beyond the understanding of class and addresses a deeper issue of “caste” that underlies much of how we see race and class in this country.

Information Systems Analyst
Berkeley IT

This week in Summer Reading

Book cover for Enders Game

Ender’s Game
Orson Scott Card

An alien threat leads world leaders to recruit and train child geniuses as military commanders using a series of increasingly complex and morally ambiguous war games. Ender Wiggin’s gradual mastery of each of these games leads him to see beyond the structures imposed by their rules, and confronts readers with challenging questions about the rules of childhood, warfare, and survival.

Assistant Professor
Department of Statistics



Book cover for A Children's Bible

A Children’s Bible
Lydia Millet

In a not-too-distant future America plagued by climate change and government dysfunction, a divide grows between children and parents living together in a rural commune. The children recognize and adapt to a changing world that their myopic parents cannot fully understand, reshaping familial rules and roles.

Assistant Professor
Department of Statistics

This week in Summer Reading

Book cover for Americanah

Americanah: A Novel
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a novel that follows the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the United States to pursue higher education. Her experiences in America allow her to gain firsthand insight into the complexities of racism and discrimination, prompting her to document her ideas on race and identity in a widely-read blog. However, after spending many years in the U.S., she begins to feel a sense of disconnection and a lack of belonging. This leads her to move back to Nigeria, where she seeks to rediscover her roots and reconnect with her cultural identity.

This novel is an excellent example of (Re)Writing the Rules, as it encourages readers to critically evaluate their views on race, identity, and the biases and prejudices they may have.

Intended Molecular and Cell Biology major
Class of 2025


Book cover for Pachinko

Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is a compelling work of fiction that tells the story of a Korean family in Japan from the early 1900s to the 1980s. The novel explores the challenges faced by the family navigating life as Koreans in Japan during a time of political and social unrest. The family’s experiences are shaped by discrimination, poverty, war, and colonialism. Despite these struggles, they draw strength from their community and traditions. This novel fits the theme of (Re)Writing the Rules by exploring narratives of the human experience and challenging stereotypes about minority communities. It is a powerful story that highlights the importance of culture and identity and prompts readers to reflect on their biases and gives them an empathetic and nuanced way of understanding and relating to others.

Intended Molecular and Cell Biology major
Class of 2025

This week in Summer Reading

Book cover for The Swimmers

The Swimmers
Julie Otsuka

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka rewrites the rules of novel-writing – if such rules exist. Hilarious at times, as the narrator assumes the first-person plural “we” from the POV of a diverse group of lap swimmers at a community pool, and poignantly heartbreaking later, as the voice shifts to the second-person “you” in the form of one of the swimmers’ daughters, a Japanese American novelist. Masterfully crafted, this novel delivers – in a slim 176 pages.

College Writing Programs


Book cover for Twenty Five Chickens

Twenty-Five Chickens and a Pig for a Bride
Evangeline Canonizado Buell

In Twenty-Five Chickens and a Pig for a Bride: Growing Up in a Filipino Immigrant Family, Buell recounts her experiences as one of the few Filipino families growing up in West Oakland during the 1930s and ’40s, detailing her and her family’s triumphant struggles over racial and gender discrimination in the Bay Area. This wonderfully written and engaging memoir gives us a firsthand window into Buell’s family life, starting in the early 1920s when her parents immigrated to the United States, into her adult life, two marriages, and numerous achievements, which include helping to co-found the East Bay Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society. In addition to the engaging narrative, Buell welcomes us into her story through a series of family photographs.

Buell was recently interviewed on East Bay Yesterday, a great accompaniment to the book, and the Bancroft Library has an oral history with her, which is part of the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Homefront Oral History Project.

UCB IGS Library Director

This week in Summer Reading

Book cover for Detransition, Baby

Detransition, Baby: A Novel
Torrey Peters

What are the rules of motherhood, fatherhood, gender, love, and family? The characters in Detransition, Baby toss out and revise so many of these rules, and I thoroughly enjoyed being a witness to that!

Reese and Amy, two trans women, are in a relationship with each other until Amy de-transitions due to the transphobia she faces: It was just too difficult for her to live as a woman. Now going by Ames, he finds himself in a relationship(ish) with his boss, Katrina, a biracial, Chinese American, Jewish, cis woman. There is an unexpected pregnancy and some creative finagling, and Reese’s strong desire to be a mother – coupled with Ames’ desire to be a father-not-father – leads our characters to have a lot of dialogue about what family is, and in turn an unconventional family is “born.” There are some plot twists that I don’t want to give away here, but know that Peters’ characters are just as dysfunctional, histrionic, and damaged as any of us. It is refreshing and delightful to read! Detransition, Baby is also among the first novels written by a trans woman to be issued by a major publishing house.

Language Exchange Program

Book cover for Sellout

Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994-2007)
Dan Ozzi

The word “sellout” might not have the same integrity-shattering connotation as it used to in this age of get-famous-at-all-costs social media influencers. But it wasn’t always this way. As punk and alternative broke (again) in the 1990s, the music industry started to take notice and artists from the underground were confronted with a Faustian bargain: to stay true to the DIY, anti-corporate ethos of the scene, or to sign to a major label and face the music (and be tagged with the dreaded S-word). Getting shunned by the die-hards and banned from 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, the East Bay epicenter of punk rock in the ’90s, might sound quaint today, but it was enough to threaten the clout and credibility of bands of the time.

Brimming with thorough reporting and illuminating interviews, Dan Ozzi’s Sellout follows the road to the major label debuts of artists such as Green Day, Jawbreaker, Jimmy Eat World, Blink-182, At the Drive-In, The Donnas, The Distillers, and My Chemical Romance. Some transcended the “sellout” tag, while others buckled under the weight of remorse and expectation, or were swept back into obscurity by the changing tides of popular music. But each band had a hand in rewriting the script for a new era of punk- and alternative-influenced pop music, and ushering in an age where the word “sellout” is no longer a nail in the coffin of an artist’s reputation. Put simply, these bands walked so Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly (and so many others) could run.

Multimedia Writer + Editor
Library Communications

This week in summer reading

Crimp Camp movie posterCrip Camp
Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht (directors)

Following a group of disabled teenagers from Camp Jened in New York to Berkeley, California, in the 1970s, this exuberant documentary chronicles a turning point in the disability rights movement and the fight for accessibility. Our student reviewers for the 2023 On the Same Page program described the documentary as “incredible,” “moving,” “full of fun, joy, and love,” and something that “everyone should see.” Another student reviewer appreciated the documentary’s portrayal of “disabled-centered happiness and accomplishments, one of the many ways it changed my perspective.” Crip Camp reminds us of the power of community and activism to rewrite the rules (literally!) and change the world.

Director of Curricular Engagement Initiatives
College of Letters & Science

The Beadworkers book coverThe Beadworkers: Stories
Beth Piatote

The featured read for the 2022-2023 LEP Global Book Club, Beth Piatote’s debut collection is rich, inventive, and altogether stunning. The very first words are written in nimipuutímt – the language of her Nez Perce heritage – a decision that, rather than being alienating as some publishers feared, invites readers to trust that their discomfort will be rewarded. Throughout the collection, she draws on Nez Perce history, aesthetics, and culture to provide a complex picture of modern Native American life that is as rooted in injustice as it is joy, community, and resilience. The stories she tells are at once a radical departure from dominant narratives while also deeply reflective of the human condition, giving all readers the opportunity to experience new ways of being while drawing connections to their own. From poetry to prose, board game rules to a reimagination of an ancient Greek tragedy, her varied use of form and genre make for a delightful read and re-read.

Language Exchange Program

Summer reading: Turn the Ship Around!

Book cover for Turn the Ship Around Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
L. David Marquet

WHY–We live in a world filled with anger and grievance over conflicting notions about the relationship between individuals and communities. That relationship is defined by notions of liberty, a word that is not a synonym for freedom, for liberty requires duties. But “liberty” is not the same in time. In classical antiquity, fascism, and post-communist autocracies, the individual is subordinate to a community, so liberty reflects the collective’s freedom from impurity or attack. In modern times, commerce supersedes violence as a way of allocating goods, so liberty is defined by the actions and desires of individuals. Give too much leave to individuals, and you get nihilism and fragmentation. Give too much leave to community, and you get stultification and totalitarianism. Thus, we must learn to live within a dialectical tension. And you will need to understand its contradictions so as to cut its Gordian knots. To that end, two readings on theory and one on practice.

YIN–A liberal comparison of ancient versus modern liberty: Benjamin Constant’s 15-page essay titled “The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns” (1819).

YANG–A deeply conservative version of the same: Leo Strauss’ 49-page essay titled “The Liberalism of Classical Political Philosophy” (1959.) (electronic copy requires CalNet authentication)

BANG–A book about how a commander on a nuclear submarine changed a top-down martinet culture into a community of leaders: L. David Marquet’s 274-page book titled Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (2013).

Professional Faculty
Haas School of Business

That’s it for this year’s Summer Reading! Tune in again next year!

Summer reading: Whole Earth Catalog

Book cover for Whole Earth Catalog The Whole Earth Catalog
Stewart Brand, editor

The Whole Earth Catalog is a publication full of marvels that reveals a time in the world when a generation was seeking and creating all the implements for living. While it was being published, it was about how to live and make a new world on planet Earth – with a vision that arose from the alternative ideologies and DIY zeitgeist of the 1960’s in California and elsewhere. The catalog called itself a “tool for living.” Its goal was to open up all the esoteric, folk, or professional knowledge in the world so everyone could learn how to create whole, sustainable lives.

It is a catalog in the sense that it has products, contact information, and vendors and publications small and large, but it’s maybe really a dream for everyday people seeking to learn how to do everything from living off the land to hunting mushrooms; to building dome houses; to handling emergency childbirth; to buying a space clock; to how to open communication with other intelligent life in the universe; or where to find cheap government surplus pickup trucks. It had mailing addresses for absolutely everything, like where to send away for earth for building houses; where to order a copy of The Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, or a copy of Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, etc., etc., etc. It also contained insets of short essays (by Ken Kesey, for one), and funky illustrations (by R. Crumb, for one) written by idiosyncratic people about the new kind of living. The catalog’s products and illustrations are magical for people chasing a world of love and food and machinery and freedom and…everything. Quoted purpose of the Whole Earth Catalog: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Slavic, E. European, and Central Asian Catalog & Metadata Librarian

This book is part of the 2022 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Summer reading: The Great Bay

Book cover for The Great Bay The Great Bay
Dale Pendell

The Great Bay, a novel by Dale Pendell (1947-2018), opens with humanity on the threshold of collapse of the planetary anthropogenic infrastructure based on technology and fossil fuel. A global pandemic driven by a microbe with very high contagion and very high mortality has dramatically reduced the world’s population. The pandemic is over after the first few pages and the remainder of the book explores the aftermath – and what an extraordinary exploration it is. The geographic feature that gives the book its title, the Great Bay, formed over several centuries of melting polar ice, rising sea levels, and heavy rain. It is what will certainly happen in central California when sea level rises even a relatively small amount – a large inland bay will form, connected to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Sacramento River, present-day San Francisco Bay, and the Golden Gate. This Great Bay forms a geographic centerpiece and anchor for the stories of community that take place in that region, although the stories have universal significance. In the course of thousands of years, as human civilization reconstitutes after its precipitous collapse, it does so in smaller communities and without a focus on technology. Such a focus might not even be possible, given that the relatively easily accessible mineral resources we have enjoyed for centuries would have been exhausted. Thus, different aspects of the human psyche are cultivated, and what might be called spiritual or shamanic connections with reality are developed to a high level. Less technology, more shamanism, a resulting different metaphysical frame on the nature of mind, all contribute to a vastly different course for civilization, and a vastly different take on reality.

Teaching Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology

This book is part of the 2022 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Summer reading: The Nutmeg’s Curse

Book cover for The Nutmeg's CurseThe Nutmeg’s Curse
Amitav Ghosh

In this deeply researched and beautifully written book, Amitav Ghosh convincingly argues that our current planetary climate crisis is the predictable outcome of centuries of Western, resource-driven colonialism, along with the concomitant marginalization and sometimes extermination of Indigenous cultures. This geopolitical world order – which early on focused on the commodification of nutmeg and other spices, followed by tea, sugarcane, opium, and finally fossil fuels – continues to this day. Our current crises – of climate, community, and spirit – can be seen as the result of a mechanistic view of the Earth, one where nature exists primarily as a resource for humans to exploit, rather than as a living force filled with agency and meaning. The book ends on a hopeful note of bringing attention to the re-enlivening of nature, a way of thinking about the geosphere and biosphere that takes seriously the world views of the Indigenous cultures that have suffered tremendously in the course of this history. My favorite book of 2021.

Teaching Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology

This book is part of the 2022 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!